Major achievements in METAHEART

Metabolism of n-3 fatty acids and heart disease

Major achievements in 2006

In this project, two large intervention studies on the effects of n-3 fatty acids from fish in capsules were performed on arrhythmia. Furthermore the project includes an intervention study on the bioconversion of alpha-linolenic acid to EPA and DHA and an experimental study in isolated pig hearts on the effect of n-3 fatty acids on electrophysiology. In the first intervention trial no significant  effects of n-3 fatty acids could be detected in patients with arrhythmia, neither on spontaneous PVC’s (premature ventricular contractions), nor on changes in the ECG, which could imply that these markers are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to detect the beneficial effects of fish oil on the heart. Further analysis of the data revealed a decrease of the heart rate in the patients supplemented with the n-3 fatty acids. This effect is considered as favourable.  The second intervention trial (multi centre; SOFA) has been executed in Western and Eastern Europe with in total 546 patients with an implanted defibrillator. The intervention was continued until January 2005 and data collection was completed in July 2005. Preliminary results have already been communicated at international meetings in Stocholm (European Society of Cardiology) and Durban (International Union of Nutrition Sciences) in September 2005. Results of the study were published in June 2006 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


Experimental research performed in the Amsterdam Medical Center in isolated hearts of pigs fed n-3 fatty acids from fish indicated that, contrary to the hypothesis, during acute ischaemia a tendency for more ventricular tachy arrhythmias occurred in the hearts from n-3 fatty acids supplemented animals. In simple terms this means that the stability of the normal rhythm of heart muscle contracton is decreased following n-3 fatty acid supplementation. Moreover voltage clamp experiments on isolated myocytes from the animals described above, revealed a shorter action potential duration. One paper on these results has been published in 2006 in Cardiovascular Research, while another one is in press in the same journal. The intervention study on the bioconversion of alpha linoleic acid to EPA and DHA was succesfully completed at Maastricht University in 34 volunteers by June 2005. Results have been analyzed and a paper will be submitted to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in thefirst half of 2007.

Projectleader METAHEART
Dr. Ingeborg Brouwer
WCFS, Netherlands